Help me choose a digital camera

I am planning a month long vacation next year to Nepal. I need a new digital camera!

Does anyone have recommendations on a good camera? Should I stick with a ultracompact or go for an SLR? Would SLR’s be overkill for everyday use?

This may be a better and more specific forum for your questions.

http://forums.steves-digicams.com/

I bought a larger camera and have regretted it ever since. It is cumbersome to carry around to the point that I sometimes just leave it at home. I don’t notice the pictures to be that much better than my older smaller cameras (allowing for the difference in pixel count). I’m looking for a newer small camera again. Get one that has all the manual settings and learn to use it properly.
My theory is that even a crappy camera that you have with you takes better pictures than the one sitting on the shelf at home. Plus, if I was backpacking across the country, I wouldn’t want the extra weight.

Before you do anything, think of what you plan to take pictures of and under what conditions.

While you’re thinking about this I’ll give you the advice I give everybody on vacation. Buy postcards. SERIOUSLY. Some poor shlub with a professional camera waited for the perfect lighting conditions to take the perfect picture of the major attractions you’ll be looking at. You will NEVER take as good a picture regardless of the camera you buy. One of the best uses for a camera is to take pictures of you and your travel mates.

Things to consider:

  • Battery life - can you use high end batteries that store a lot of energy if recharging will be a chore.
  • View finder - does the camera have a view finder so that you can shut the back display off to save battery life
  • Image stabilization - it should be Optical and not digital. This is a must
  • ISO rating - the higher the number the more latitude you have in lower light situations and at higher zoom-lens settings.
  • Zoom ratio - Only look at optical zoom ratios - are you going to take pictures of goats on mountains a mile off?
  • Size - There’s a huge trade-off of amenities when looking at the smallest compacts. If you can live with a camera between the smallest one and a full size SLR then you will get a MUCH better camera by carrying a slightly bigger camera.

With all that said, I would recommend something like a Canon Powershot G11 as a high end mid-sized camera. Note at the bottom-left of the website is a drop down box labeled “Page” where you can look at additional information.

Another option as I was complaining about to my wife when carrying my heavy camera, if the place is popular, is to look on a place like Google Earth. Does the world need another person taking a picture of the Trevi Fountain in Rome? It has been done before and probably far better than you’d do it. Just copy or link to a picture you like.

I’d say the G11 is still to big. I have a Pro1 at about the same size. I’d go for something like the Canon Powershot SX200 IS. 12x zoom, but with an annoying pop up flash that pops up even if you don’t want to use it. That stopped me from buying it.

If you know how to use an SLR to take creative pictures, get one. If you just need snapshots, go with the compact.

I like the 12X zoom but you sacrifice ISO and battery life. There’s also no view finder. A nice one to consider. The G11 will do a much better job in low light plus it will take 100 more pictures per charge. The one thing I like about my big camera is that the battery never seems to wear down.

IMO, for most people, a DSLR is overkill. Why? It’s too big, complex, and they really aren’t interested in changing lenses.

Now, for trekking in Nepal (this was pre-digital days) I carried my smaller P&S, attached to the sternum strap of my pack. This is the way I hike and ski today, having the camera handy mean that you take more pictures, and better pictures.

Will you be able to recharge batteries frequently? Where I was you couldn’t. In that case you’ll want a camera with an optical viewfinder (like the G11 or the Canon SD1200) so you can turn off the screen which eats lots of power. A camera with AA batteries would probably be better so you can get a few sets of low discharge NiMH batteries to tide you over, but those aren’t common in a small camera. For something like the SD1200 you’ll want to pick up at least one extra battery.

Do you plan on using manual controls? If so the G11 is a very nice camera, also the Canon S90 (but no optical viewfinder). If not, you have a lot of good options in the small but high quality camera.

Having a bigger zoom lens can be very nice. The Panasonic ZS3 is IMO the best compact ultrazoom and makes an excellent travel camera. It has a nice wide angle lens which is key for landscapes, and enough zoom to handle most of your needs. It’s not great indoors or in low light, but frankly, few models are. You can also look at the Fuji F200 but I think the interface on that camera is very clunky, even if the camera itself is top notch.

Whatever you get, buy it early and use it a lot before you go. Extra batteries, extra memory cards, and a case small enough that you will carry with you all the time are key.

I do a fair amount of traveling; just came back from Ladakh in October. Similar terrain to where you are going.

I am not a photographer, but I like good photos and I am picky about mine. However my cardinal rule of thumb is that the camera you will use is the camera you have with you. Therefore mine needs to be pocket-sized. It needs to be cheap b/c I am cheap and b/c I do not want to kill myself if I lose it traveling.

Your first decision point: are you going to take videos? My HiDef video camera is very small, very cheap ($400) and pretty sturdy: no moving parts (writes to SDHC cards). It has a nice pickup chip, excellent battery life and takes very high-quality stills–8 native to 12 interpolated megapixels.* http://www.camcorderinfo.com/content/Sanyo-Xacti-VPC-HD2000-Camcorder-Review-36280.htm#
There will be even better, cheaper ones by the time you go.

So…for the first time ever I took only one camera–the video camera) and I used the little Sanyo to take my stills as well. They are very nice stills. I did take a back up point and shoot (and of course those take video) but only as a backup. Never used it. I came back with about 60 GB of gorgeous HiDef and a thousand or so beautiful 8 Megapixel stills.

When I don’t take my video camera, I suggest one more criterion to the ones I’ve seen above: sturdiness. Pentax and Olympus both make a line of waterproof, shakeproof, dustproof point and shoots. That’s what I own also. I do not want to be bothered babying a camera under a waterfall, crossing a river or in the rain.

I take extra memory (beware of cheap fake SDHC cards) and extra batteries.

There are so many good cameras you almost can’t go wrong. I am skeptical of individuals who currently don’t use large cameras but buy them for trips. They do take better pictures, however, from a professional’s perspective. For regular photos there are too many other variables. You might consider buying the camera a couple months in advance before a big trip to have time to test it out.

Finally, don’t get sucked up into the megapixel war. It’s only one of many factors in a good photo.

(*As an FYI consider the lack of optical image stabilization on my particular model a serious flaw.)

My G10 fits in my jeans pocket. I think it’s the perfect compromise between image quality and portability. Toss a small flash on top and you’re all set to go.

I got a Canon SD 1000 two years ago, used off of Ebay for $80. It’s still working beautifully- my friends all think I have some fancy pants camera when they see my vacation pictures. I hear there’s like an SD 1200 or something now if you’re looking for something new.

The camera is nice and compact- it was great for hiking around Machu Picchu because I could jam it right in the pocket of my jeans. I’ve dropped it a million times and it’s still fine; I regularly have it bouncing around my purse, banging into things all day. Hell, all of Peru was very. . . misty. . . so the camera was constantly sort of wet and it was still fine.

If you want to see my MP pics to get an idea of what you can take, check out my Flickr. Remember, at this point, the camera is at least 3 years old, I’m its second user, and I’d been wandering around Peru a week :slight_smile:

I love my camera. Love love love it.

The G11 is an improvement over the G10 in most ways, including the fact that it has fewer MP. But adding a flash is more trouble than most people will put up with.

If I had to take a single camera it would be a still camera, not a video, but I take more stills than video. I’ve never found a video cam that can take as good still shots as a still cam, but I’ve been happy with the HD video from some still cams. But that’s a matter of preference.

The “tough” cameras have their merits, but unless I was going to be around water a lot I’d pass. Their image quality isn’t up to the levels of regular cameras, and I’ve abused the heck out of my cameras hiking and skiing and they’ve held up. For being in boats, certainly. For hiking/trekking, not needed IMO.

Oh, and mine takes pretty rockin’ videos, too. Not super high quality or anything, but pretty darn good, if I may say so myself.

I can take pictures on my Pro1 all day long. I’ve reached 300 pictures without having to recharge.
Re. low light. I took my S40 to Rome half a dozen years ago. I bought a little camera stand in Hong Kong that fit in my pocket. It was unobtrusive. So, I’d just place it down, set the 2 second timer and let it take a picture for upwards of a second. Great pictures. I bought the Pro1 with low light conditions in mind. What I found is that even though it takes better pictures in low light, I still need a stand for 1/20 of a second vs 1 second. My small stand is to small for it and it takes much time to monkey with it to get the shot I want. By that time, security is hassling you for having a stand in the museum, usually a no-no.

The answer depends entirely on how serious you are - or wish to become - about photography.

Entirely.

I definitely do not want to become a professional nor even an advanced amateur. I have a Kodak EasyShare and I rarely if ever change any settings. The battery life on it sucks, that’s why I’m thinking of getting a new one.

I don’t think I’ll take videos, unless I see a Yeti but if I can get a clear shot of one, I’m sure some newspaper will buy it from me. :slight_smile:

Thanks for all the advice! I am going to start looking at the models listed but I think I may stick with a smaller unit. I can’t see myself lugging a larger camera around. That would just annoy me.

Why is optical image stabilization so much better than a digital one?

The cut to the chase camera recommendation from me is an ultra-compact point and shoot that is also sturdy. They are so small you will always have it with you. Consumer Reports just rated a bunch of digital cameras last month.

Here’s a Wikipedia article link that might help on Image Stabilization.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image_stabilization

Basically there are three approaches:

  1. Stabilize the image before it’s recorded. This can be done by making tiny adjustments in the lens elements or tiny adjustments in the image sensor. This is the approach usually called Optical Image Stabilization. Still and video cameras both can use this.

  2. Take the image once it’s been recorded (post-capture processing) and process it electronically. This is called Digital or Electronic Image Stabilization and makes more sense in the video world, where each successive frame is matched to the prior one so the image you see doesn’t jump around from frame to frame.

  3. Fake Image Stabilization by forcing the camera to change the sensitivity. The longer an exposure, the higher chance for a blurred image, so if you increase the sensitivity you can get less motion artifact. This is really a fake approach because the image will be grainier for a given exposure time. Beware that manufacturers may refer to this approach as “Digital Image Stabilization” which is technically correct but kind of a lie given that they are not really digitally re-processing an image which has been captured.

Why is optical better? Well, I know next to nothing about how digital cameras work beyond being a consumer who has owned a lot of cameras, but for video the post processing software cannot clean up as well as having captured a stable image in the first place. There lots of anti-shake software editing solutions on the market as well, and it’s a big long tedious deal to get the settings perfect–it’s essentially trial and error to decide how much correction a given video file needs.

For still camera images, I don’t see any way a post-processing digital correction can figure out exactly what the photographer had in mind.

Looking for a place to start?
Start with ultra-compacts and only get bigger if they just don’t do it for you. Otherwise why go bigger?

If you have to be waterproof, the Olympus Stylus Tough 8000.

If you have to have really good pictures, the Canon Powershot SD980.

Not recommendations to buy; just a place to start looking. Moments after you actually buy anything, a better and cheaper model will appear on the market. :smack:

Offhand, I would NOT go for ultracompact, unless you insist on keeping the camera in your tight pants or shirt pockets. And of course these sorta depends on your definition of ultracompact as well. And how tight those pockets are.

Yeah, dont go mega bulky either. Just figure out how small or light it needs to be to hang around your neck, or in a jacket pocket, a backpack pocket, or a fanny pack or whatever.

There are optical, electronic, and mechanical penalties for trying to get things REALLY small.

For the past few years I’ve been using a 6/7 year old 3.5 megapixel point and shoot. It recently died. Santa got me a new 10 megapixel point and shoot (this one has more adjustable features as well). However, this one is a little smaller than the old one and MUCH thinner (like 2 to 4 times).

I’ve just starting playing with it, but my initial impression is that it does not take better pics than the old one even though its probably 2 or 3 technology generations newer. It may even in some ways take worse ones. Its new, so the jury is still out. But I can tell you it is NOT way or obviously better and I am a fairly detail oriented, picky, and visually perceptive person when it comes to pictures.

I suspect the reason it is not as good as one would think at first is because of some compromises they had to make to make it this small. If nothing else, the battery has to be significantly smaller and it does not have an optical viewfinder, just a BIG LCD one. Thats going to eat into battery life big time.

My WAG is that generally if you have two cameras with other similar overall specs, the bigger one (thats not too big obviously) is going to perform better. And sometimes smaller just means its harder to handle from an ergonomic point of view.

Optical stabilization is better because it physically stabilizes the picture. Digital stabilization is just an interpretation of a crappy picture and is essentially an edge detection sub-routine. It will determine what it thinks are edges and fill in the gaps. The same applies to digital zoom. it’s really a meaningless application because anyone can zoom in on a picture on their computer with free software.

And to repeat what has already been said, don’t get wrapped up in megapixels. You can blow up a 3 mp image to 8x10 with good success and anything you’re looking at is now going to be 8 mp or better. One of the suggestions listed early actually reduced the resolution from 12 mp to 10 mp so as to better incorporate technology for difficult lighting situations. I’ve got panoramic pictures that I made with a 3 mp camera that are every bit as good as my expensive DSLR as far as color saturation and white balance are concerned.

If you are truly interested in finding the best point and shoot then I would recommend you buy the most common memory chip and test the camera’s under bad lighting situations. There are cameras out there with shooting modes specifically designed for difficult lighting. Digital cameras have less latitude in varying brightness than film so if you can take a picture of a bright scene that also has shadows then you will see which camera truly does what you want it to do. Sunlight and shadows together are the best test of a digital camera.